Xavier Bertels
30 Apr 2015

User Experience and Design

Somebody tweeted this image today:

Picture of a fence labeled Design and a man-made path around the fence labeled User Experience.

Whenever someone tries to make a distinction between design and user experience, they often suggest that design is not taking users into account. When, on the contrary, design consciously takes people into account. Apparently, the people suggesting otherwise have never met a real designer. Either that or they believe user experience is up in the hierarchy above design. Let us go with the former – I believe most people are just uneducated, not snobs ;).

In any case, they are wrong. And I see this kind of platitude pop up in conversations too often to ignore it.

What is Wrong With this Picture?

Art is the most individual expression of the self. Design is not. Design is a deliberate attempt to improve someone’s experience with an artefact or the world around them. A designer employs various methods from a wide toolbox including history, sketching, anthropology, writing and psychology. Design imposes order on an otherwise chaotic world and tries to make it more pleasant for a wide range of people.

That last part is crucial. Let me repeat it. The goal of design is to make things more pleasant for a wide range of people. What that means for the previous picture, is that it is a false dichotomy. The gate you see is not just design. It does not take people into account. The pathway to the right is probably user experience, yes. User experience is agnostic, it is descriptive. User experience is not an act. To design is an act, to user experience is not. The pathway is the kind of user experience that results from bad design. The kind of design that did not employ real world user testing for instance.

Design is Science

Here is a secret: design employs the same methods as empirical scientific research. As a result, there will and should be failed design experiments before you come to a design conclusion. You create a hypothesis and then test and evaluate it. That is the nature of the empirical method. That is the nature of design.

User experience research is a means to make the design better. Measuring the user experience is a crucial part of a good empirical design process. So in stead of regarding design and user experience as two opposites, allow me to try and make a new picture you can share:

Einstein writing Good Design = Design × UX on the blackboard.

Xavier Bertels

About the author: Xavier Bertels is a designer and managing partner at Mono, where he helps companies deliver simple, useful & beautiful digital products. He tweets as @xavez.

3 thoughts on “User Experience and Design”

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You took the words out of my mouth/keyboard. I’ve had an issue with that image for so long know and you’ve perfectly illustrated why it is wrong.
Well done

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Nice read! You just made a really good + universal point.

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A compassionate and clear explanation. Thank you for this.

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